Getting to grips with nature: An Icelandic adventure

Before I went off to Sri Lanka my friend and I decided it would be wholly appropriate to start my travelling adventures off with a small trip to Iceland together. So there I was, two weeks prior from being at Heathrow airport about to begin my Sri Lankan adventure, standing at Gatwick airport ready to begin my Icelandic one.

Why Iceland you may ask? I don’t think I could pinpoint the exact reason but it probably was a mixture between wanting to go somewhere that seemed the polar opposite of a place we’d normally choose and wanting to be different then the majority of 19 year old Brits who flee to some poor Spanish or Greek island who has to put up with them whilst they drink them dry.

Iceland was everything I expected and nothing at all. With only 3 days to explore we had a lot to pack in. From the moment I stepped out of the airport it was clear that this was going to be a holiday unlike any others I had been on. For starters it was icily cold (living up to your name there Iceland), extremely grey and scarily windy. I thought I was going to be blown away. So without hanging around we hopped on a bus and headed straight to our hotel. One thing I noticed instantly was that the Icelandic landscape was extremely green (Fun Fact No.1: there’s actually more ice in Greenland and more green land in Iceland but they called “Un-named Iceland” Iceland to make it sound less desirable to their enemies so they wouldn’t be invaded/inhibited) and there were no trees anywhere. Eventually we arrived at our hotel, unfortunately on our arrival we were treated to the news our whale watching tour the next morning was cancelled due to poor weather but our stay here was short so we didn’t dwell for long and popped out to see what Reykjavik was like at night. By night it was probably only 7 o’clock, but we went in September so it was pretty much pitch black outside already. Iceland doesn’t let this get to it though, and most shops still remained open.

Despite our morning tour being cancelled we woke up early so we could explore the town in daylight before our Golden Circle tour booked for the afternoon. We took it upon ourselves to visit Hallgrímskirkja which is a very beautiful church, inside and out. For a small charge you could go up the top of the church on the viewing platform to see over the town, it was a great view and you could pretty much see 360 degrees round.

After seeing the sights, grabbing some lunch we began our Golden Circle tour starting first in the UNESCO world heritage sight Þingvellir National Park, then on to Gullfoss Waterfall, and ending up in Strokkur Geyser. Unfortunately for our stop at the National Park the weather was not our friend at all. Due to the wind and rain I could barely see a thing and the temperature made me feel as if my fingers were going to fall off. All I wanted to do was run back to the coach and wait. Maybe the weather was real bad or it was all down to the open space or perhaps a combination of both but it was an utterly scarring experience. My advice to you if you go: take. every. single. piece. of clothing you have and cover every inch of your body – you won’t regret it. But I do have to admit despite all of this it was very interesting to see all the cracks in the ground created by the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates drifting a part. It’s so strange to think the ground beneath us is constantly moving and the world constantly changing without you even realising or having any immediate knowledge and I guess this place really highlights that fact (Fun Fact No.2: the tectonic plates here move apart approximately 1 inch per year). 

Thankfully the weather picked up and by the time we reached the waterfall, I didn’t mind being outside as much anymore. Now I may be biased as I love waterfalls but it was magnificent. You’re even able to walk all around it and get right up close to the starting point of it. It was really great, a must-see.

But due to being a part of a tour we soon ran out of time and had to move on to our last remaining place – the geysers. Now this was a sight to behold, unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. It was magical. A fascinating science I’ll probably never understand. I think this part of the trip is something I’ll remember forever but always wonder if it was really real. I mean, where else do you see boiling hot water shoot up 180 feet into the sky every 5-10 minutes of its own accord? Nature is just out of this world. It’s amazing. However one thing, which I feel is quite important, that no-one tells you prior to seeing these geysers is that the stench is real. Be prepared to be breathing sulphur the entire time you in the area of a geyser (in other words it smells like potent eggs and there’s nothing you can do). Trust me though, the sight is well worth the struggle of the scent. Just cover your nose if you have to and be awe-stricken at what this world can do.

After our exciting day of seeing so many new things and exploring so many different sights and places, we retired pretty early and went to bed after we came back from dinner.

Important Notice No.1: If you feel the need to buy bottled water instead of drinking from the tap, don’t even bother. As a nice cashier told us and pretty much turned down our sale of the bottled water, what comes out of the tap is way, way better. Also if you happen to be a vegetarian like me you’re going to struggle in Iceland. All they have is fish so you’re most likely going to have to live off of pizza like me. Although I did come across one oriental vegan restaurant one night which was actually quite nice! 

On our second day in Iceland we headed off to the famous Blue Lagoon. I still can’t believe a place like that exists. You know all that hype you’ve heard about it? Well yes, every single world is true. You need to experience this place at least once in your lifetime. It’s probably the most beautiful thing I have ever laid my eyes on or had the opportunity to experience. With the temperature being so cold it was such a nice experience just running in what essentially seems like one massive bath. It’s so warm and the more you move around the more warmer spots you find! The layout is so adorable with its little bridges and caves connecting everything together. There’s even a nice little sauna and steam room you can enjoy. And after the free mud mask and a drink brought from inside the pool you’re in for full relaxation and the feeling of never wanting to leave. We wanted to stay forever but we had our next tour to go on, straight from the Blue Lagoon itself. This time to a small fishing village called Grindavík and a lunar landscape known as Krýsuvík.  

Important Notice No.2: I’d strongly advise you take a colourful, noticeable towel you could easily identify as your own, as someone had the nerve to steal mine! But to be fair almost everyone has a plain white towel there just like I did!

Our next tour was small and cosy and consisted of about 10 of us max. And our tour guide I could never forget. He was the most enthusiastic Icelandic person I ever had the honour of meeting, he was so passionate about the country too. He also seemed a bit crazy with some of his stories but he was definitely a character all right. Our first stop on this tour was just pulling up on the side of the road as our tour guide believed the mossy lava grounds were a must-see and a must-touch experience. And I’m so glad he stopped! From the moment we were on the bus from the airport the green moss which covered the lava fields intrigued me and all I ever wanted to do was touch them, and finally my chance was here. Touching that moss was so strange! It was so spongey! And stepping on it was ever stranger as your feet just sort of sunk down a bit. Our tour guide also took the time here to pick some little black berries (known as Krækiber in Icelandic) for himself as it was something he apparently wanted to do for awhile. So after his cup was full and we took as many pictures we could of the mossy surroundings we were off to Grindavík. Grindavík is a lovely small fishing village in Iceland, where unfortunately lots of shipwrecks happen due to the rough tide. After seeing some pretty awful boat wreckages and hearing different stories, our tour guide decided it would be a brilliant idea for us all to climb the rocks up to the top of the hill to see how rough the sea was below. He “apparently” had never done this before but seemed very excited and bounded on ahead of the group. I’m not a rock climber nor do I do much physical activity but I wanted to see the sea and push myself so I attempted to climb the rocks. And I got quite close to the top unlike the majority of the group who stayed at the bottom but it was quite scary. The rocks were sharp, and many moved once you stepped on them, and I kept getting stuck. With no-one around I took a moment and once I began panicking about how I was going to get down I realised I needed to stop. So how did I get down you may wonder? Well I sat down right on the rocks for a while and contemplated this. I called out for my friend but she couldn’t hear me, so I did it the old school method… I just bum shuffled all the way down. It was really a mission and a half. After that we got back on the bus and moved on to a lovely little orange lighthouse, then on again to see a cute little baby horse in a field (our tour guide pretty much stopped there on his own accord and started making noises at the horses to communicate). Next stop which consisted of multiple stops was the lunar landscape of Krýsuvík which is made up of several geothermal areas. Krýsuvík gave us the delight of seeing craters, mud pots and hot springs along with that wonderful sulphur smell. I actually really enjoyed this trip though. Not many people were around, and we were really out in the middle of no-where in Iceland. It was great. And I saw so many wonderful things. I love a good mud pot me, and I’m glad Iceland gave me my first viewing of one. Our last stop was probably my favourite. Another “must-see” from our tour guide. It was a field filled completely with fish hanging up from wooden polls, to create the very traditional Icelandic salt fish. Just a hint I was being sarcastic before. It was literally the most repulsive thing I have ever seen. The sheer sight of it made me sick to my stomach, I wanted to hurl. But being in new country is all about new experiences so I forced myself off the bus. I could only stand it enough to take one picture. The stench of fish and the sight of mass fish corpses surrounded by flies made me feel horrified, disgusted, nauseous and everything else horrible you could possibly imagine. Thankfully we quickly moved on from there and it became nothing more then a vile memory. For out last night in Iceland we decided to go to a nice restaurant for dinner and check out Iceland’s nightlife but in reality we weren’t out for long before we decided to head back to the hotel for a nice sleep and to pack our stuff.

Our last day in Iceland gave us half a day before we had to go to the airport in the evening, so we decided to see more of the town which this time included a lovely art museum full of students and the Icelandic Phallological Museum (which is highly recommend as it was actually very insightful and the amount of specimen they have is just quite frankly intriguing – whereas could you measure yourself up against a sperm whale’s penis?). We also took this time to walk along the port and see the Solfar Sculpture otherwise known as the Sun Voyager. Plus we even got a bit of sun!!

It was sad to leave Iceland behind but it was such a fascinating, magical place, I think it’s quite literally imprinted into my memory. I just had the best time and would encourage anyone I could to go there as where else can you be in a place this natural and so other-worldly? And I didn’t even embark on half of it! Next time I go I think I’m going to have to see a volcano and a glacier. I may even have to go whale watching!

But to make the most wonderful holiday even more perfect, on our plane back to London there was suddenly all this commotion, so I look out the window almost expected the plane to be on fire or something but no. Instead there was the Aura Borealis dancing across the sky right next to us. I mean what are the chances? And thankfully I was lucky enough to have a window seat! So my friend and I covered our heads and watched them until the plane got further and further away and we eventually lost sight.

I feel so extremely fortunate to have experienced everything I did in Iceland and I’m so glad that we decided to go there. It’s such a special country and I feel like it’s so underrated but maybe that’s a part of its charm. Anyway, if there’s one thing you need to do in life before you’re time is up, you need to go to Iceland and experience this all for yourself.

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